Advent 2016

Today is the first day of Advent! Do you celebrate? Do you know what it is?  Advent is one of the things I really miss about traditional church.  How do you feel during the weeks leading up to Christmas? Maybe the overwhelming spirit of materialism makes you sad, or maybe you feel only stress and long for some peace. Maybe you just really want your kids to know they are receiving a gift infinitely bigger than video games or lego sets.

Advent is a 4 week season to remind us that Christmas is about hope, peace, joy and love. It allows us time to realize we are doomed by our sin and lets us prepare our hearts for the arrival of our savior. By Christmas day we are ready to celebrate the savior who keeps his promises, loves abundantly, and will never abandon us.

If you’ve celebrated Advent the same way your whole life, maybe this is the year to do something different. There are many Advent traditions that have evolved over the past 2000 years, some are ancient and some are brand new.  I love how the Holy Spirit continues to push and inspire us to find new ways to relive this familiar story. Sometimes a change in practice allows us to see the story in a new light, or from a different character’s point of view.

If you’ve decided to practice Advent this year, I compiled some resources to help you and/or your family. I have used them myself and with my family. They have given me new ways to think about familiar scriptures, and have led our hearts away from the frenzied consumerism and back toward the earth altering event in Bethlehem.

The Advent wreath has 4 candles on the outside, with a large one in the middle, and it visits a different part of the Christmas story each week. It varies from church to church, but the point is to cover major themes: the prophecies which bring hope, the preparation which (oddly enough) brings peace, the shepherds who receive joy, and the angels who sang of God’s gift as love. Finally, on Christmas day, you light the Christ candle to remember his humble but awesome birth.  Lighting the Advent wreath is my favorite Christmas memory from childhood. Each Saturday night we would gather around the wreath, my parents would trust me to strike matches, and we would light the new candle. We followed the same litany each year, which was a poetic combination of scriptures, prayers, Christmas hymns, and a specific reading for kids to tell what the candle was about.

There are many scripts to use for lighting the candles online if you google Advent wreath scripts, but this one is my favorite for families and young children:

Jesse Trees  show us how the Christmas story relates to the rest of the bible with a new ornament and bible story each day.  I usually gather the trimmings from the tree and put them in a vase. Some people buy a small table top tree, or just put the ornaments on their larger family tree. The reading plans go through the major bible stories chronologically and help us trace God’s promise and our need for a savior through history.  When you’re finished with the bible story, hang an ornament relating to the story on the tree. You can buy ornaments, or make them, or just print the ornaments and color them.

Ann Voskamp has perfected the Jesse tree, she has written beautiful books for adults and families. The books take you through the scriptures with devotionals and matching ornaments (which you can print for free or buy.)

Holy Heroes also offers an Advent Adventure program, which is a  combination of Advent wreath prayers and Jesse tree ornamets. Each day you get an email with a new video, and links to activity pages, prayers, and kids devotionals. This is a Catholic resource, so I skip the parts about mass and about praying the rosary, but if you’ve never celebrated advent before those parts may help understand the history and the symbolism of advent. The Jesse tree links have their own videos and printables though, and can be used across denominations.  The other awesome part about program is its FREE!

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A Christmas Craft Calendar is very similar to the Jesse tree, but focuses more on the Christmas story and less on the entire Old Testament.  

A list or crafts and bible stories can be found at 

Every day you create an ornament with your kids for the tree, and read the scripture that corresponds. The ornaments are fairly simple, made with common craft supplies. If you think your kids would love it, but 25 days of crafting sounds crazy, don’t fret! There are shorter plans, with ornaments for just 5 or 10 days. There are also backup printable ornaments that only need to be colored if you’re missing the supplies on any given day. I would recommend it for kids between 4 and 10, although I had a lot fun helping my kids last year and I’m 35.

Photo challenge is for visually minded learners, and maybe teens who want nothing to do with things like circle time or coloring pages. A photo challenge has a list of Advent keyword topics relating to the lectionary readings for the day. Snap a photo that embodies the topic and keep it in a gallery to meditate on, or share it on Instagram/facebook/twitter/whatever to minister to your friends and other visually minded people.

Bible journaling- Have you seen the art people draw in their bibles? Search  #biblejournaling and prepare to be amazed! It’s a beautiful outlet for people who are crafty AND inspired by scripture to put those talents together.  Drawing, writing, painting, or crafting in response to the word challenges creative minds to see familiar Christmas scriptures in entirely new ways.  Scripture Writing is for the person who loves the idea of bible journaling but is about as crafty as a lumberjack. Scripture writing is basically copywork for grownups- copy down the daily scripture, (about 5 verses) word for word.  It can be in beautiful calligraphy with embellishments, or written on a legal pad in pencil. Pray over the passage, and scan it for words and phrases that God is speaking to you. Then highlight these things, or retrace them, while thanking God for his faithfulness.

The benefit of both practices is that you’re engaged with the Word, removing the temptation to space out while reading the parts that you’ve read 100 times. Both practices can be done year round, but there are special resources to help you focus on Advent.


Scripture Writing (starts dec.1)

Devotionals Almost everybody puts out an Advent devotional, there are several inspiring ones for free on the YouVersion bible app. The ladies at She Reads Truth also deliver goodness every single day, and they expand their offerings during Advent to minister to kids and hubbies too! Their workbooks are beautiful and worth the price, but you can also follow the readings and devotionals daily for free on their website.


I hope you and your family will take the time this next month to celebrate Advent! If none of these resources work for you, I hope you will at least be intrigued by the concept and find your own way to celebrate.



The Best Worst Thanksgiving

     I was 23 when I decided to host my first Thanksgiving. It has always been my favorite holiday, but my parents had divorced earlier that year, so it wasn’t  as exciting as usual. Instead of going home to face the misery, I thought instead I would maybe find similarly homeless people to share the meal with.  I had been working as a bike messenger in DC, and had made some good friends. We always joked that a messenger without a girlfriend is called homeless- and since most of them were single, I thought hosting a thanksgiving meal like this should be easy.

     I let everyone know if they wanted to celebrate, we could do it at my house. Even though it looked abandoned from the outside, it had an enormous eat-in kitchen which was perfect for entertaining. The exposed electrical wiring and chipped lead paint just made it even more of a perfect setting for a gathering of misfit souls. I imagined the night would be like an Adams family Thanksgiving; set in my spooky old house, with crazy people, delicious food, and enough alcohol to forget we were all abandoned. It would be so fun no one would even miss their family.

Photo cred. Kevin Dillard,

The Guests

      My boyfriend, Adam, loved the idea of not going home. Growing up his dad was in the navy, which made them nomadic, so my rowhouse was as much a home to him as any.  Also, his mom was an alcoholic, so he was quite happy not spending money to travel down to Georgia just to get in a fight. I was relieved he had agreed, because no one would come if they thought I was cooking the turkey, but Adam had once worked as a chef, and agreed to cook the entire meal for me if I would make him pumpkin pie for dessert.

     My original plan was to ignore my parents completely, but I heard my Dad wasn’t going home either, since he had to work. When I called, he said he was going to volunteer at a homeless shelter instead, and I thought if he wanted to eat with a bunch of surly strangers, he could do that at my house. So I invited him too.

     Inviting him did not fit with my plan though, and I worried how people would react. My friends were mostly heathens and atheists and my dad’s idea of a good time was reading theology while listening to gregorian chants. If he came, he would be coming straight from church which meant he would certainly be wearing a suit, and maybe even a tie. He had also sternly disapproved of my decision to become a bike messenger, and he didn’t seem especially fond of Adam either.  But the divorce had brought some fresh humility into our relationship, and he bravely accepted my invitation.

     The other problem with my plan was that my friends, crazy though they were, were not as willing to give up on their homes as I was. And the people who were going to stay home had been so abused by their loved ones they had no interest in celebrating anything at all. Like my moody, motorcycle mechanic roommate, who locked himself in his room with an 18 pack of cheap beer, and spent the whole day listening to death metal.

     The exception to this was Ed. I adored Ed, almost all the messengers I knew did. He was fairly private, but his collections of punk rock records and vintage Italian bike parts were infamous. He had the nastiest dreadlocks I had ever seen, cultivated out of a complete aversion to shampoo and hairbrushes.  Ed was also the only person I knew in my generation with a mustache, which made him look Parisian to me- like if you stuffed all of his dreads into a beret you would see him painting along the Seine. Although in real life, I could never imagine him doing something so generic.

     I was surprised he wanted to come, since we weren’t especially close, but I really admired that he didn’t back out when I told him my dad was coming.  He was a vegetarian, so he wasn’t lured by the promise of turkey.  He must have desperately wanted to eat something besides pizza. Or maybe he felt pity for Adam, not wanting his friend to be stuck alone at a table with my dad all night.  I knew his family lived too far away to buy plane tickets home, but whatever the reason, I was glad he wouldn’t be sitting somewhere sad and alone.wp-1478542963582.jpgThe Dinner

     As the meal approached I started to regret everything about the dinner. The guest list was smaller and more mismatched than I had imagined, and I quickly learned that pie from scratch was beyond my baking skills. I was so worried about being a hostess. I had no idea how to create conversation among such incredibly different people.  How could I have been so foolish to think we could all come and laugh together, and that would solve anyone’s problems? I didn’t think I had anything in my life worth laughing about right then, anyways.

     When we all finally sat down, it was everything I was dreading. The food was delicious, but no one knew what to say to each other. My dad stared at the crumbling plaster walls, and I assumed he was wondering if he should send me some money. Ed nervously assured us that the tofurkey he brought was actual food, but no one else was willing to try it.  I tried to catch Adam’s eye so he could make some adorable joke or use his southern charm to break the ice- but he wasn’t looking up and his mouth was full of turkey.  I felt horrible that I had invited everyone and expected them to get along.

     But between everyone’s first and second servings, we finally found something to talk about…what it was like to pee in a trough. It was startling for me to realize that I lived had 23 years ignorant of this humiliation. Silently I began to thank God for the ability to always use the bathroom privately, and vowed to never complain about someone peeing on the seat again. The men proceeded to enlighten me with horrifying detail; the length, the texture, the difference before and after a football game. We laughed at their experiences of fear, of dodging drunk football fans and of urine streams gone crazy. The men were equally startled to learn that, even at a stadium, women’s bathrooms always have stalls with doors, AND locks. They cried together at the injustice.  The conversation continued on this way for quite a while, until I showed everyone the pie I made. Suddenly they were all full and ready to go home.

* * *

     Years later, after Adam and I married and left DC, we heard that Ed had died.  His individuality made him so loveable, but it was also part of what isolated him. I guess being an outsider made it too hard for him to fight the temptation of alcoholism. When he passed, Adam and I each remembered this as our favorite memory of him. And surprisingly to me, my dad really loved this Thanksgiving too. I felt bad about subjecting Ed to my family drama, but I felt worse for not including him in more of our broken gatherings.  More than anything, I wished Ed knew how seeing him laugh with my dad made that my best Thanksgiving yet. Even though I was so sure it was going to be the worst.

Photo courtesy Ed Hermanson Memorial


     Somehow the weirdness of it all saved it. In the end, I realized what we all needed to cope that year was less like the Adams family, and more like the Velveteen Rabbit. The celebration was shabby and the people brokenhearted, but that made it more real and beautiful than anything I had imagined. I still stress out about hosting people, but now I know nothing is as important as letting people know you don’t want them to be lonely. And it’s okay if it’s awkward, because even the saddest people might find a trough to laugh about.